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Personal Finance

Identity Theft and Consumer Protection FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

  • These days, anyone can fall victim to identity theft and servicemembers might be relatively easy targets. Because servicemembers are away from home for long stretches of time and receive a steady source of income, it's easy for scammers to obtain a servicemember's information without being noticed. Fortunately, servicemembers may be able to protect themselves and their loved ones from identity theft by taking some preventive measures.

    Start by keeping careful track of your records. This includes reading your credit reports, bank statements, and credit-card statements when you receive them. This way, it will be easier to catch unusual activity, such as unexplained purchases. Be sure to shred any physical documentation to make it difficult for scam artists to access it.

    It's equally important to be cautious when giving out your personal information. If you receive an e-mail or telephone call from someone asking for credit-card information or your Social Security number, don't share it. Most of the time, this is a scamming giveaway. Protect your digital information with a strong password that contains letters, numbers, symbols, and different cases. Any passwords you use should not contain words or revealing number combinations such as your date of birth and Social Security number.

    Before leaving on deployment, place an active-duty alert on your credit report. This alert requires creditors to verify your identity before credit is granted under your name. The active-duty alert is effective for one year but may be renewed if your deployment lasts longer. You can activate or remove the alert by calling one of the three major consumer reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Whichever one you call is required to contact the other two to confirm the active-duty alert on their versions of your credit report.

    If your identity is stolen despite your best efforts to protect yourself, call one of the aforementioned companies as soon as possible and ask to have an initial fraud alert placed on your credit report. You can also take advantage of a consumer's ability to order one free credit report per year from each of the three credit reporting agencies and check them for errors. If you find an error, create your identity-theft report and contact a legal assistance office if desired. Even if the losses you suffer seem insignificant, voice your concerns by contacting a consumer reporting agency. Only then will financial fraud be addressed, and you'll feel more secure knowing how to protect yourself from future scams.

  • The chance that someone will assume your identity to open fraudulent bank or credit accounts is increasing as thieves become more sophisticated. The best way to protect yourself is to try to prevent this from happening in the first place. Here are some ideas:

    • Make a list of all of your credit cards, even those you don't carry in your wallet. Include account numbers and the names and emergency phone numbers of each issuer. Store this in a secure place that's quickly accessible to you. Don't keep it in your wallet!
    • If possible, don't let your credit card out of your sight when you use it to pay for a store or restaurant purchase.
    • Don't carry your birth certificate or Social Security card in your wallet.
    • Install a locked mailbox to prevent mail theft. Call your credit card company or bank immediately if your statement doesn't show up on time.
    • When dining out, keep your purse or wallet secure. Leaving it on the table when you go to the salad bar is a no-no.
    • Use drive-through ATMs if possible. If you can't, use ATMs inside stores or in well-lit, well-trafficked areas. Never let anyone see you type in your personal identification number, and don't write it on your ATM card.
    • Shred pre-approved credit card or loan applications, and those checks your credit card company mails you, before you throw them in the trash.
    • Check your bank statements as soon as you receive them, and order a copy of your credit report at least once a year. Check it over for signs of fraudulent activity.
    • If you live in a state that uses Social Security numbers on your driver's license, ask for a randomly assigned number.
    • Don't give out your Social Security, credit card, or bank account number to anyone who calls you. Give them out only when you have initiated the call.
    • If you are concerned about a potential scam, call the local police.

    If your wallet or personal identification is stolen, don't wait. Minimize potential damage by calling the police and other parties such as your credit card companies, your bank, and the three major credit bureaus (Experian (888) 397-3742, Equifax (800) 685-1111, and Trans Union (800) 680-7289). Ask each credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit report to alert creditors that your financial information is or may be compromised.

  • If you're dissatisfied with the repair work done on your car, the first thing to do is speak with the manager of the repair shop. Explain what your complaint is and what you'd like done to resolve your problem. A reputable establishment will stand by its work and ensure that the job is done right. Also, the laws in some states hold registered auto repair and body shops legally responsible for the safety and road-readiness of their work.

    If the repair shop refuses to cooperate, don't sign anything indicating that you're satisfied with the work. Contact your insurance agent or your insurer's claims department. They may be able to intervene directly and work something out with the repair shop. This is especially true if the shop is a preferred establishment recommended by the insurance company. If you have your repairs done at such a shop, the repair and claims-paying process may be sped up. Some insurers guarantee the quality of the work performed by preferred shops.

    If neither the repair shop nor your insurance company is of any help, contact your state insurance commissioner's office and ask for assistance in resolving your complaint, perhaps through arbitration. Finally, if all these avenues fail, you may need to go to small-claims court or hire an attorney.

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